Archive for month: November, 2011

Another hot November day

The work will never get done but is just too lovely to be indoors. Set off for the Col du Bac this morning, another walk from our back door into the hills. A steep climb from Chez Maison Bleue is soon rewarded with spectacular views of the valleys and mountains.

From the back door

It took me around 4hrs to the Col and back, returning via Chalabre. The GR7 signs (red and white stripes) make for easy navigation. Roam as far as you wish among the hills surrounding Sonnac Sur L’Hers; if you like to wander where not many others do, then this region is the one for you.

Well signed routes

Stumbled across this once fine maison, just waiting on some other mad English couple. 

I was beautiful once

 Macabre remains of a previous resident meant I didn’t linger.

Poor thing

 

 

 

French furnishings for the b&b

Buying furniture for the B&B and holiday cottage has proved a challenge. We have a steadfast, left hand drive Volvo which has spent many lonely winters abandoned at Carcassonne airport and has never let us down but draws the line at transporting double beds, sofas and wardrobes. Delivery charges are extortionate; we are in a rural area but not far from major towns and cities such as Carcassonne and Mirepoix. I have been keen to avoid creating an English country interior in my French house and without being immodest I believe I have succeeded.

We have bought mainly old, often antique, French furniture, taking care to treat the ubiquitous woodworm before placing it on my lovingly restored parquet floors. The brocante (second hand, warehouse kind of setup) in Mirepoix and the Troc (same) in Carcassonne have been the main sources of often unbelievably cheap, solid wood furniture that the French no longer desire for their modern, boxy villas. However, my beautiful, intricately carved rosewood bed turned out to be completely useless as the mattress isn’t a standard size. Even so, Nick is most certainly not having it for firewood.

On a lower note, before our major purchase of a sofa in year 2 (delivery an eye watering 80 euros) we bought 2 sun loungers from Lidl that we used all summer on the terrace and all winter beside the fire – the plastic arm on one of them melted.

B&B in the south of France

August 2006

I love my French country home in the foothills of the Pyrenees in this beautiful, unspoilt region of the south of France. It is almost the polar opposite of what we set out to find – it’s not small, it’s not manageable, it was partly derelict (still is) all the things we said we would avoid during the planning stages, many of which took place in various licensed premises in Workington, my home town. Mmmm, maybe that was it.

Nick had put in an offer for another house on a recent visit that he had made alone, and so confident was everyone that it would be what I wanted, the vendor had set off from Holland to sign the necessary paperwork. So despite the consternations of the agent having made assumptions about what I would and wouldn’t like despite never having met me (not sure what Nick’s excuse was) we continued our search.

Which led us to our house in Sonnac Sur l’Hers on the border of the Aude and Ariege in the south of France. Really 2 houses that the previous occupants had begun to knock together, i.e. bash 2 holes in the wall between the ground and first floors. The main house had 6 bedrooms, all in various states of repair, and with potential for at least 4 more in the attics (bed and breakfast?) a brown bathroom suite in a bathroom “big enough to hold a tea dance” according to the agent, and a huge sunny terrace with views across the churchyard, fields and hills.

Oh, but what a lovely feel there was. The huge blue shuttered house standing on the ancient village square with its church and beautifully restored stone walls of the Marie – our taxes obviously stretch to proper, authentic, lime render. The church bells chime right outside the bedroom window that Matthew and George shared on one of their many snowboarding trips to the Pyrenees. So no sleeping past 8am although thankfully they don’t ring through the night. We have stayed in some of the most remote, picturesque villages in the south of France and returned home shattered, each night’s sleep ruined by the incessant tolling of church bells.

The purchase was fairly smooth and the house was ours within 3 months, although where the log burning stove was that would keep us warm during the cold winter nights of the Aude, was a black hole. There was a cat in the secret garden, which didn’t concern me at all, and a bat in the corner of the mezzanine room which concerned me a great deal. (We left the door open taking a chance that it would fly out rather than all its mates fly in).

Our first few days in the house were spent in a daze, wondering what on earth had possessed us. The house we discovered had been 3 houses in the more pragmatic days of the 1700s. There was evidence of 3 front doors and 2 staircases remain, lovely winding oak stairs from the main sitting room all the way into the attic (derelict) and a spiral staircase tucked away in the back of the kitchen. The third probably crumbled away sometime in the 19th century. So, completely overwhelmed, we spent the week drinking wine then set off to catch our flight home.

Stepping out the back door

19 May
Walked out this evening from our back door onto the path behind the house that is the GR7, one of the long distance walking paths that leads across France to Spain. It reminds me of Laurie Lee, in the book we studied at school, stepping out from Stroud all those years ago in the age before the steam engine. Sonnac Sur L’Hers, in this unspoilt region of the Languedoc, doesn’t seem so far away from those times.
The meadows of wild flowers are stupendous, like nothing you see in England anymore. I can only speculate whether it has anything to do with the farming methods used in the two countries. Certainly from what I have seen in our region, the farms tend to be smaller (often due to succession laws) and the land is less intensively farmed, though of course there is a lot more of it.

Fields behind Chez Maison Bleue

The purest blue cornflowers, dancing in the gently evening breeze of the Aude, and dozens of co-ordinating, miniscule butterflies on the wing. A palette of red poppies, purple orchids (not sure how rare they might be) and yellow cowslips. A steep but short climb from the house is rewarded with sweeping views of the valley and the not too distant, mighty Pyrenees.

Perched on a hill above Chalabre, the Chappelle de Calvaire or the Church of the Calvery is visible, about half an hour from this spot, or a steep walk from Chalabre marked by ancient stations of the cross. We often take this walk into Chalabre and stop for lunch or at least a fancy cake from the boulangerie, you’ve earned it. An easier, flat walk back to the house along the cycle track gathering figs, blackberries and apples as you go, depending on the season.

Chalabre from the Chappelle

 

 

 

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Welcome to our blog for Chez Maison Bleue, our holiday cottage and B&B in the hills south of Carcassonne. Scroll down to explore the different categories listed on the left, click the centre of  the photos to enlarge. Hope you enjoy it, feedback welcome – be nice!  We hope to welcome you to our very French holiday home in the south of France.

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A walk from the house, November, 2011

Hot and sunny in the Languedoc just now, lunch on the square every day this week. Flowers wilting in their pots, parched. There are 250 km of paths in the Mirepoix area, today we covered about 20 of them. Camon is a “plus beaux village de France” around 3km. Particularly lovely in May, June when the roses draped round all the houses are in full bloom; a gift from the municipality years ago. The bar closed, which is not unusual, probably closed for lunch, so we continued.

Church, Camon

Lagarde a bit further, around 7km, where the ruined chateau on the hill still maintains a degree of dignity. We have paid 3 euros previously to look around the ruin, even though you couldn’t actually look around it, too dangerous,  just get fractionally closer than from the path. Never mind, good to support the restoration, there is a long way to go.

Lagarde

We often walk or cycle this path, the furthest we have gone is Mirepoix, another hour on the bike from Lagarde. There is good scrumping to be had from the hedgerows and we often see red squirrels scampering along ahead. They seem less timid than their English counterparts, maybe I have been sitting in the sun too long.

Bounty from the woods